John Madejski Garden Commission: 'Travelling to the Wonderland' by Xu Bing

'Travelling to the Wonderland', John Madejski Garden installation, by Xu Bing, 2013, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

'Travelling to the Wonderland', John Madejski Garden installation, by Xu Bing, 2013, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

2 November 2013 - 2 March 2014

Celebrated Chinese artist Xu Bing transformed the V&A’s John Madejski Garden with a new installation inspired by the classic Chinese fable Tao Hua Yuan (The Peach Blossom Spring). The V&A invited Xu Bing to create a major new work to coincide with the Museum’s exhibition, Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700–1900 (26 October 2013 - 19 January 2014) which brought together the finest examples of Chinese painting to present an overview of one of the world’s greatest artistic traditions.

'…After a dozen steps, it opened into a flood of light. He saw before his eyes a wide, level valley, with houses and fields and farms. There were bamboos and mulberries; farmers were working and dogs and chickens were running about.' - translated by writer and linguist Lin Yutang (1895 - 1976).

This text is quoted from the Peach Blossom Spring, a classic Chinese fable written in 421AD. It describes the moment when a lost fisherman discovers a wonderland hidden behind a mountain where inhabitants live in harmony with nature.

Xu Bing in his workshop, © Xu Bing Studio

Xu Bing in his workshop, © Xu Bing Studio

Inspired by the story, Chinese artist Xu Bing  transformed the John Madjeski Garden into an idealised landscape. Drawing elements from Chinese landscape scrolls, Xu Bing  collected authentic stones from different places in China and made them into a layered mountainscape. He created a dream-like atmosphere with mist, light effects and sounds of birds and insects.

Xu Bing’s works often challenge viewers to question their first impression - everything is not as it first seems. From certain angles visitors could see hidden machines and cables which reminded them this wonderland is ultimately un-real, just like the Peach Blossom Spring is ultimately fictional.


Watch a video of Xu Bing creating the installation in his Beijing studio


Video: Travelling to the Wonderland at the V&A

View transcript of video

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